Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Pierce County inspections: No sense in looking back

Post by Kim Bradford on April 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm with 5 Comments »
April 2, 2009 7:44 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The new assessor-treasurer seems to want to cement his indictment of his predecessor, but there is nothing more to be gained.

Shame on Ken Madsen, Pierce County’s former assessor-treasurer, for not doing the property inspections required of his office. Double shame on him for lying to the state about it.

Now that that’s out of the way, can the county’s new assessor-treasurer focus his attention on the business at hand? Dale Washam, in office just three months, risks getting derailed in a bullheaded pursuit of an already vanquished foe.

To say Washam doesn’t like Madsen would be an understatement. After losing two elections to Madsen, Washam tried to get him thrown out of office. That effort failed, but Washam won in the end.

In a surprise upset last November, Washam beat out three more qualified candidates for Madsen’s open position. Then he promptly produced evidence of what he had been alleging for years: that Madsen allowed his office to skip physical inspections of county properties required by state law.

Vindication tastes good, and Washam apparently wants a couple more helpings.

He’s condemning a county audit report that confirms the property inspections should have been done, but also downplays the harm caused.

As is the case with much that Washam says, he’s right up to a point.

Someone who built an addition onto their house without a building permit was likely to pay less than he should have owed. In many cases, those taxes don’t just go uncollected; the burden is shunted to other taxpayers whose properties are fairly assessed. The effect may come down to pennies, but it’s real.

So far, so good. But Washam’s also requested the state auditor and attorney general "commence a full investigation, as to any violations of state law, as it pertains to the 228,140 physical inspections for the years 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 that were never done."

To what end? No one is disputing that the property inspections should have been done. But the only remedy is to conduct inspections from here on out. The county’s prosecuting attorney’s office says there is no legal authority for an assessor to change past property values.

Washam successfully used property inspections to make a case that his office should be spared the size of budget cuts facing other county departments. What more could he want, other than to prove once and for all that Ken Madsen was an inept assessor-treasurer, as Washam has long contended.

What’s the point? Madsen has left public office. The skipped property inspections are a stain on his record, but not punishable offenses.

Washam has more important things to work on. His appraisers have, if not the highest, some of the highest workloads in the state. And his office, while it might have spared the worse of the budget ax, will have to absorb a $150,000 cut.

Washam should leave well enough alone and concentrate on running the present-day assessor-treasurer’s office.

He may find that being successful is, as they say, the best revenge.

What's coming
Leave a comment Comments → 5
  1. But, what if you, and the rest of us, are wrong about Mr. Washam? What if it’s not about vindictiveness, but about what’s RIGHT? If the neighbor down the street built onto his house, thus increasing it’s value and isn’t paying the taxes on it, then who is? You and me, that’s who. The inspections should have been done and were not done according to State law. Why isn’t Mr. Madsen being brought to bear for his crimes? Why is Washam being dragged trough the mud and called vindictive instead of being recognized for doing the job the right way?
    “What’s the point?” The law has been broken and the County taxpayers were damaged in the process, THAT’S the point! Is Madsen above the law or should he be taken to task for lying to a Judge about it? I seem to remember a President not to long ago that was chastised for the same offense.
    Keep fighting the good fight Dale. I’m sorry that I doubted you.

  2. Kim Bradford says:

    papasan and dltooley3: I guess I am missing what you all want or expect to happen here. The prosecuting attorney’s office has said that the law does not allow the assessor to retroactively change property values. And the Department of Revenue has said that there are no statutory penalties for not conducting property inspections. What’s the result you are seeking?

  3. ldozy1234 says:

    IMO: actions that are needed are:
    1) An apology to Mr. Washam and public recognition of the good job he did in bringing this matter to light. For too many years it was( and appears to continue to be ) swept under the carpet. It is vindication for him. He said for years there were problems and the whole county appears to have been “in” on it by the way this is being handled and the continued disrespect he just was slammed with at the Council meeting Tuesday.
    2) Immediate investigations into other County Depts. for issues like this. If the Exec. can find wasted budget slots in 2 months of taking office, Washman can present the proof of what he has been claiming for years, the Sherriffs dept not filing paperwork, etc.then I would suggest that unrestricted outside evaluation of most county depts might show other dirty closets. First to mind.. code enforcement and PALs

  4. logicmonster says:


    Good question. It does appear that there is nothing to be done, but if you are predisposed to not do anything, it’s easier to come to that conclusion.

    But there are many questions that are not being asked. Did Madsen perjure himself at anytime during this cover up? Did he refute Washam’s claims that properties were not being properly inspected? Were there other people in the Assessor’s office that knowingly aided and abetted Madsen’s actions? Do they deserve to retain their positions?

    Or how about, why did Madsen take this route? What was the reason for it all? Was there insufficient budget to do the job at hand, or did he divert budgeted money to other pet projects and run out of the money to do the job right?

    My biggest fear is that this could be the launching of “The Madsen Doctrine” whereby it becomes understood that elected officials don’t really have to do what the law says they must do because there is no penalty for doing your own thing. If there is no penalty, no sanction, and no accountability, then government will drift that much closer to the two class society of citizens who are required to obey the law, and government employees who have the option to obey it.

    While it is not clear yet what exactly should be done, it is very clear that the worst thing we could do is “nothing”.

  5. ldozy1234 says:

    adding to this… how can one office alone with repetitive red flags thrown since 2001 missed oversight investigations ? It appears doing nothing has been a long term action for the last 8 years. Shouldn’t someone like the prior Exec, Performance Audit, Council, etc. have a record for disclosure outlining how and what they did in evaluating these repetitive claims? Especially since it did go to court? I did see earlier articles addressing some of Mr Madsens testimony but I think the story not yet told are the documentation and actions for those who should have investigated and done some oversight. Either that or we possibly have other loose cannons in many County depts that are not doing the job paid for.

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0